What’s the difference between marketing and PR? That’s a good question, particularly when the likes of Lord Chadlington and Lord Bell are, rightly, calling for more integration between the two disciplines.
One person who thinks she knows the difference is Echo Research’s Group CEO, Sandra MacLeod, who asserts In PRWeek:
“Where marketing loves command and control, PR thrives on influence and relationships. The concepts of customer, employer and global citizen brands are merging. This, if ever there was one, is surely PR’s time.”
I think Ms MacLeod is wrong to say that the difference between the two disciplines is one of approach. I disparage her tacit implication that marketing is a blunter, more clumsy instrument than the deliciously professional and nuanced, human, PR. Her view reflects a popular misconception that needs dispelling. So here goes.
It so happens that I read her thoughts while midway through re-reading Greater Good: How good marketing makes for better democracy, by John A. Quelch and Katherine E. Jocz (Harvard Business Press, 2007). So let me review its wisdom a little.
At the core of Greater Good is how marketing not only exists to sell goods and communicate ideas (just as PR does), but also mediates between consumers and suppliers to ensure the market gets – from feedback – what it desires. Or as the book puts it on page 3, the economic function of marketing “is the interface between supply and demand”.
Hence, two-way engagement, interaction, dialogue and feedback are the essence of good marketing practice (just as it is the essence of good sales practice). As the book says:
“Consumers are engaged and involved with marketing and the consumer marketplace. They relish expressing their identity, being part of community, and exercising their creativity – not through every purchase decision they make but through those in which they have chosen to be involved.”
Moreover, a marketing-led company such as Apple, which is closely bonded to its customers, is a command and control-led body at the level of management. The two concepts are not contradictory, as anybody can testify who has studied Professor Theodore Levitt’s – of Harvard Business School – explanation of Henry Ford’s innovative use of production line techniques.
The authors of Greater Good also interestingly point out that a testimony to the power of marketing to forge relationships with consumers is how many of today’s top brands have their origins in the 1800s: Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, H.J. Heinz, Ivory Soap, Coca-Cola, Cadbury’s, Nestlé, Unilever, Siemens and many more.
Perhaps one should also remember that a successful brand is as much in the hands of consumers as of its shareholders; let’s never forget what happened to New Coke.
BTW: I intend to review Greater Good in more detail at another time. There’s much to be said about what politics and marketing have in common and what differentiates them. There’s much good insight in Greater Good, but I shall make the case that the authors overstate the synergies between marketing and democracy, because politics is about power first and foremost, and marketing is not.
But, meanwhile, I recommend Greater Good to anybody in the PR industry who wishes to read a contemporary account of what marketing does and how it is responding to new technology and societal challenges.
Now it is back to today’s subject matter: the relationship in future between PR and marketing. Here’s what Lord Bell said when he echoed earlier remarks from Lord Chadlington:
Integration is the new buzz word, but it is not about lowest common denominators: it is about being channel-neutral, it is about ensuring the whole is stronger than the sum of the parts.
For the PR industry, it is not about the old battle for a share of advertising dollars, but how to work collectively, with all the other disciplines, to a common strategy so that wherever the message appears, it contributes to the overall reputation objectives. Everything must be complementary, not contradictory. There also looms an obsession with new compliance procedures and new regulation across the world, an inevitable but wrong reaction to a collapse of trust.
Coordination, integration and alignment of messages and objectives, then, is the aim of the “new” game. But, of course, it has always been the case that much PR has been marketing – selling – by other means, rather than developing reputational strategy. PR is at its unique, necessary, useful and amusing best in that latter role. But it always did wide work. Edward Bernays, for instance, pioneered issues management as a tool to flog more product whether he was running soap competitions or inspiring women to light Torches For Freedom.
We know that advertising is having to adopt what were once thought to be PR strategies. That’s because firms are having to be more and more clever in hunting down their audience members, and catching their attention.
Moreover, the recession has resulted in a much stricter regime of cost control and increasing demands for return on investment. And, as Lord Bell points out, there’s an obsession with new compliance procedures and new regulation across the world.
Doing away with silos and antiquated departmental demarcations that often produce contradictory messaging makes sense. It is a price both marketing and PR are going to have to pay as we all move on in the post-Credit Crunch environment.
I believe that PR is going to do well where it can prove (or convince) that it can do better than marketing and, in particular, advertising. To what degree advertising is going to become more expensive per eyeball, or less persuasive per dollar on social and mainstream media, I wouldn’t like to say. But I acknowledge that advertising has a proven track record and role that are hard to dismiss, which explains why its budgets far exceed those allocated to PR.
But overall, we might well see PR emerging (or merging) as a major vehicle of marketing: an innovative way of selling stuff and ideas in the digitally networked world. But we will also see plenty of PR professionals still engaged in their traditional roles as advocates in the courts of public opinion and as burnishers of reputations.
So yes, PR and marketing functions will increasingly integrate. Moreover, I maintain that just as PR can do marketing, marketing can do PR, but only up to a point. While neither discipline is inherently superior, there will always be a difference – although not always a clear one – between defending, say, a political policy or corporate reputation and licence to operate, and marketing, say, a chocolate bar.